Friday, June 12, 2009

Pakatan Rakyat, Good Governance, Transparency and Accountability - Updated

Governments are elected & instituted by the Rakyat not as ends in and of themselves, but as the means by which the Rakyat's rights, interests, freedoms and safety are secured & protected. This is the only raison d'etre of any government.

Any government that seeks to serve the Rakyat must practice good governance, which according to the UNDP, is:
"The exercise of economic, political and administrative authority to manage a country's affairs at all levels. It comprises of the mechanisms, processes and institutions, through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, exercise their legal rights, meet their obligations and mediate their differences."
The characteristics of good governance are participation, rule of law, transparency, responsiveness, equity and inclusiveness, effectiveness, efficiency, accountability and strategic vision and consensus orientation. Good governance ensures that corruption is eradicated, the views of minorities are taken into account and that the voices of the most vulnerable in society are heard in decision-making and implementation. It is also responsive to the present and future needs of society, balancing between growth and distribution, present and future resource use.

Of these characteristics, I would like to touch upon just two key ones where I believe that Pakatan Rakyat governments are sorely shortchanging the Rakyat; namely transparency and accountability.

Case in point is the issue of the awarding of waste management contracts in Selangor by Alam Flora. On 21 & 25 May '09, PKR's Petaling Jaya Selatan division’s deputy chief and PJ City Councillor Mr. A. Thiruvenggadam, claimed that:
1. "No job offers have given to the Indian community. No contracts have also been allocated for the Indian businessmen in the state"
2. "the state government divides waste-concessionaire Alam Flora contracts to political parties - 40 per cent to PKR, 30 per cent to PAS and 30 per cent to DAP"

First, let's get some things straight. Mr. Thiruvenggadam is wrong to call for special treatment for one community. He was appointed to represent PJ citizens of all communities, not just those of his own ethnic group. One of the key deliverables for PR (please correct me if I am wrong) is replacing the racial politics of BN with a new Malaysian politics. Mr. Thiruvenggadam's demands go against that key deliverable.

Furthermore, how much is awarding contracts to a vendor from a particular community going to help the whole community? I don't mean to impugn Mr. Thiruvenggadam's motives, but did he have any preferred vendor in mind?

Government contracts are to be awarded transparently based on merit in accordance with good governance to maximise the benefit to the Rakyat. They are not to be divided amongst the party faithful as the spoils of electoral victory. Even if affirmative action to benefit the underprivileged & marginalised is a government policy (as it should), there still should be transparency & accountability. Indeed, as Mr. Thiruvenggadam himself alludes to in his statement, there are humongous issues about balanced development & marginalisation which need to be urgently addressed by the State government. However, to think that a race based spoils system will solve those problems is worse than folly.

In that respect, although YAB Tan Sri Khalid could have been more diplomatic in dealing with stakeholders, his principled stand & his political secretary Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad's statement to Malaysiakini is commendable. Clearly, PR needs to ensure that all its leaders understand the aims & principles of their struggle, and they should start by reading & understanding their respective manifestos first. No more gravy trains ala BN.

Enough about demands for special treatment. My main concern here is about Pakatan Rakyat leaders & how they operationalize good governance. Has good governance ever been in their agenda? Is the Pope Catholic? From day one, PR has been banging the drum of good governance as a tenet of their campaign, and as a unique selling proposition to differentiate themselves from BN. Let's look at the evidence of this (bold emphases are mine):

1. PKR's manifesto mentions good governance 2 times & transparent/cy 8 times, and promised to "Promote a fully transparent culture of openness in the awarding of government contracts and tenders, and granting awards based not on connections, but on competitiveness and track records."

2. PAS' manifesto mentions transparent/cy 7 times, and promised to "Put in place Best Practices in all Government departments, agencies and Government-Linked Companies as to provide transparency and accountability to uproot graft and corrupt practices. Public procurement must undergo open tender and those that involve mega projects must be subjected to an Independent Tender Board placed under the jurisdiction of the Parliament."

3. DAP's manifesto promised to "implement open and transparent tenders for all government contracts"

4. In the heady days after 8/3/08, this is what newly elected Petaling Jaya representatives had to say after their first meeting with the mayor and the heads of departments of the Petaling Jaya Municipal Council:

YB Elizabeth Wong: “We also informed MBPJ that our new state government is run on the basis of greater transparency and that is something we expect to see from the local council in terms of awarding contracts, tenders and development projects,

YB Sivarasa Rasiah:“Our new state government is built on a platform of more governance with zero-tolerance on corruption,”.

Obviously, there is no shortage of talk in PR about good governance & transparency. How about the walk? Let's see how they have responded to Mr. Thiruvenggadam's allegations:

Selangor MB: Show proof of impropriety in contracts allocation
PKR: Solid waste management allegations untrue
PKR rubbishes secret pact to dish out Alam Flora contracts
Contracts awarded on merit, says Liu

PR leaders' reactions to Mr Thiruvenggadam's allegations do not reflect their promises for transparency & good governance. No concrete actions (to my knowledge) have been taken as yet. Basically, all they have done is to deny any wrongdoing, assert that contracts are awarded on merit, and ask for proof of impropriety. In my humble opinion, this is woefully insufficient & inadequate. Mr. Thiruvenggadam's credibility notwithstanding, his allegations are too serious to be brushed aside with mere denials & assertions.

What is infinitely worse is this: Sivarasa: No harm making recommendations to Alam Flora. Although here (PKR denies Alam Flora contracts dished out to parties) YB seems to be against politicians choosing vendors, five paragraphs later he says this:"Individuals, and including leaders of political parties will make recommendations and we see no harm in that absolutely. That is quite normal and not a problem for us." In effect, YB Sivarasa seems to be saying that it is OK for politicians to recommend vendors to the contract awarding bodies. With all due respect YB, I beg to differ. It is immaterial that "This is a situation unlike a tender system in which firms with the lowest quotation gets the contract" or that "The decision-making at the end of the day lies in Alam Flora’s hands". Any selection of vendors and contractors is a situation where corruption can potentially occur. Therefore it must be done by the appropriate competent authority & must be done transparently, accountably & with the Rakyat's interests foremost, without undue interference from politicians. Incumbent politicians & elected reps favouring one vendor over another (and making it known to the authority via their recommendations) is interference in the selection process and is the first baby step down the slippery slope to political patronage, corruption, cronyism & nepotism.

I say again: politicians & elected representatives are there to ensure that the Rakyat's rights, interests, freedoms and safety are secured & protected. They have no business recommending any one party over another for contracts, jobs, titles, awards, sinecures, free nasi lemak, or any other favours. In some countries it is even against the law to do so.

DAP has made a statement calling for transparency & open tenders:
DAP: We would be no different from BN
DAP calls for competitive tenders in Selangor
Media Statement by Tony Pua in Petaling Jaya on Tuesday, 9th June 2009

That's a start, but DAP is a partner in Selangor's coalition government, with 3 out of 10 exco positions and 13 out of 36 PR state assembly seats. They need to do a lot more than just issue statements like a third party neutral observer. As for PAS, as far as I am aware, they have been missing in action on this issue.

Some of those statements by PR's leaders (especially YAB Tan Sri Khalid's request for proof, which is eerily reminiscent of old BN attitudes) seem to suggest that they have forgotten that they are accountable to the Rakyat. So, here's a thought. How about you (PR government) show us (the Rakyat whom you are supposed to be serving) why we should believe anything you say? Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done. The onus is on you, PR, to prove to us what you assert. Nothing but full transparency & disclosure will convince us.

You can start by doing this:
1. Make public the details of all waste management contracts awarded during the tenure of PR governments & the last BN government. Include the details of successful vendors including their political affiliations and contributions (if any). How many contracts were awarded by BN & PR respectively?

2. Make public the contracts, relations & transactions between PR state & local authorities and Alam Flora regarding the awarding of waste management contracts, including the contract terms, matrix of responsibilities & accountabilities. How many percent of contractors are chosen by Alam Flora & State government respectively? Who choses for the State government, the politicians or civil servants? Where does the buck stop?

3. Make public the entire procurement process for waste management services, including pre-qualification criteria & selection processes, as well as any & all attempts to influence those processes by elected representatives and PR leaders. Expose the "tremendous competition to get the contracts renewed, with many firms unabashedly trying all ways and means, including using the political route and instigating state assemblymen and other politicians". Disciplinary action must be taken against those proven guilty. If everything is above board (as you say it is), prove it & clear your names.

4. Fully implement what you promised in your manifestos as well as the recommendations of Transparency International, as contained in the handbook "Curbing Corruption in Public Procurement" available here, for all public procurement in PR governed states. For goodness sake, realize that you will never get good results by fiddling around with a flawed legacy system. Cut the Gordian Knot, uproot the corruption & plant good governance, as you had promised. And if Alam Flora or any other concessionaire or party places unreasonable obstacles to this, please be so kind as to let the Rakyat know about it. We are not as stupid as politicians seem to think we are.

Complete steps 1, 2 & 3 within 5 working days. Complete Step 4 within 3 months from now. Can you do that?

Everyone knows that it's not easy changing a system that has been going on for 50 years. But PR leaders must never forget that is exactly the reason why we voted them in - we want them to lead the change. That we are in this situation more than a year after PRU-12 is simply unacceptable. PR need to quickly get their act together & deliver on their promises, or else they must step aside and allow others who are more committed and/or capable to do the job!

Malaysian Heart

UPDATE 18:15 12/6/09
Report from The Nut Graph - Audit committee to monitor contract in Selangor:

- The Selangor government will form an audit committee to monitor its waste management contracts to ensure that Selangor citizens are provided with value-for-money services

- ... this would curb the unhealthy and unethical practice of awarding contracts to brokers instead of genuine operators, which he said was rampant under the previous administration.
This is encouraging news. The Selangor state government must ensure that:
  1. the workings of the audit committee are open to public scrutiny & oversight
  2. There is no hint of political patronage in the awarding of contracts
  3. state officials, civil servants, elected & appointed reps & political leaders do not interfere in the contractor selection process
  4. good governance, transparency and accountability are fully implemented in the state
The Rakyat will be watching...

Read reactions from others here:
The Barisan Nasional disease
Selangor MB: Open tender system cannot be implemented within a year
Alam Flora contracts

1 comment:

  1. A very good post my friend.

    Some leaders from PKR were making statements, eerily similar to what exactly we despise off and what that made us got rid off the person sitting at their place before.

    I couldn't believe it when Sivarasa said that 'it's okay for politicians to make recommendations' when that exactly we are trying to avoid, politicians exerting their influence in awarding contracts/businesses.

    I am glad that DAP is consistent is their stand on this matter, as reflected in the media statement by Tony Pua.

    Keep the great posts coming, buddy.


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